SportsPulse: Dan Wolken says the Justify scandal is yet another ugly headline for horse racing, which has had its fair share this year.
Bob Baffert’s pursuit of a record-tying sixth Kentucky Derby victory has been complicated by a positive drug test involving one of his top 3-year-olds.
A source with knowledge of the situation told The Courier Journal two of Baffert’s horses tested positive during the recent meet at Arkansas’ Oaklawn Park, including one of his two winners of the split-division Arkansas Derby.
Unbeaten Charlatan, the 5-1 Kentucky Derby favorite according to Vegasinsider.com, won one of the Arkansas Derbys’ divisions; unbeaten Nadal the other.
The Courier Journal’s source was not certain as of Tuesday afternoon which of Baffert’s leading Derby prospects had tested positive. Multiple outlets have since reported the positive test was Charlatan’s.
Baffert responded to an interview request from The Courier Journal with a prepared statement.
“The rules of the Arkansas Racing Commission mandate confidentiality concerning any investigation into an alleged rule violation until there is a written decision of the Stewards,” it read. “I am extremely disappointed that, in this instance, the Commission has not followed its own rules on confidentiality.
“I am hoping for an expedited investigation and look forward to being able to speak soon about any written decision of the Stewards, if and when it becomes necessary and I’m allowed to under the Commission’s confidentiality rules.”
Check out: A look at the possible field for the 2020 Belmont Stakes on June 20
Trainer Bob Baffert (Photo: Matt Stone/Courier Journal)
Nikki Langston, spokeswoman for the Arkansas Racing Commission, said the agency “has no comment at this time.”
Twice a winner of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, Baffert’s 2018 triumph was later tainted by Justify’s positive test for scopolomine following the Santa Anita Derby. The result of that test was concealed by California regulators until it was uncovered by The New York Times last September. Regulators would ultimately dismiss the finding behind closed doors based on the claim the colt’s feed had been contaminated.
Thus instead of being disqualified at Santa Anita and prevented from accumulating enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, Justify went on to become the 13th Triple Crown winner and retire to stud with breeding rights sold for a reported $60 million.
Given that controversial precedent and Baffert’s stature within the sport, Arkansas regulators can expect their review process to play out more quickly and much more publicly.
“We will not have a situation like in California, where a horse ran in the Kentucky Derby after failing a drug test,” Oaklawn Park owner Louis Cella told The New York Times. “That was an embarrassment to the industry. We will push to have this cleared up by the (June 20) Belmont Stakes.”
Ed Martin, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, said that “the level of scrutiny shouldn’t change” between the Triple Crown and an ordinary allowance race, but he acknowledged that may not be realistic given human nature and high profiles.
“You can’t ignore it, but the last thing you want to do is cast a spell on somebody when there’s nothing there,” Martin said. “It sounds to me as if they’re in the figuring-out-what-the hell-happened phase.”
Earlier: Charlatan, Nadal give Baffert an Arkansas Derby sweep
Martin Garcia, top, and Charlatan head into the Winner’s Circle after winning the first division of the Arkansas Derby on May 2, 2020, at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo: The Associated Press)
Earlier this year, the Arkansas commission was compelled to change its drug testing procedures after Truesdail Laboratories had its accreditation suspended by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.
As is the practice in most racing jurisdictions, trainers operating in Arkansas retain the right to have a “split” sample tested by an independent lab before an initial finding is confirmed. In the event of a positive determination, Arkansas regulations state: “The illegal administration of any drug, medication or chemical substance to any horse entered in a race … shall be punished to such an extent as the Stewards rule.”
A confirmed positive in Arkansas would not preclude a horse from competing in the Triple Crown, which begins this year with the Belmont Stakes, but it could cost one of the Arkansas Derby winners 100 qualifying points toward the Kentucky Derby, rescheduled for Sept. 5.
Nadal leads that qualifying with 150 points, while Charlatan ranks fourth with 100 points. The other Baffert horse to compete on the May 2 card at Oaklawn Park, a 3-year-old filly called Gamine, won a $61,000 allowance optional claiming race that day.
Nadal’s co-owner, George Bolton, told the Daily Racing Form the horse named for tennis star Rafael Nadal had tested clean following the Arkansas Derby. Charlatan’s co-owner Jack Wolf, the Louisville-based founder of Starlight Racing, referred questions to Baffert.
Sullivan: The cover-up for Justify looks shameful, no matter how it’s framed
Jason Frakes contributed to this report. Tim Sullivan: 502-582-4650, email@example.com; Twitter: @TimSullivan714. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/tims.